Letty Berkovich, right, was the public face of the Book Review in Falmouth for nearly 40 years. She died earlier this month of breast cancer. At left is store owner Clare Lygo. Contributed

FALMOUTH — For almost four decades, Letty Berkovich welcomed customers and their pets to the Book Review on Route 1 with equal parts joy and delight, always ready with a reading tip for two-legged visitors and a dog biscuit for her four-legged friends.

Letty Berkovich was a staple at the Book Review in Falmouth, where customers turned to her for reading recommendations. Contributed

Berkovich, 60, died July 6 after a long battle with metastatic breast cancer. Her legacy, according to those who knew her, will be molding several generations of lifelong readers.

During her long tenure at the Book Review, in the Falmouth Shopping Center, Berkovich was the public face of the business. Many customers assumed she was the owner because she was always behind the counter or creating new window displays. Her talent lay in being able to recommend just the right book for every type of customer, whether they were 2 or 92.

Clare Lygo, who bought the Book Review two years ago, said Berkovich became such an institution that often customers would ask for her by name and come back another day if she wasn’t working.

“There have been a lot of tears as customers discover Letty has passed,” Lygo said this week. “We set up a little memorial table for her in the front of the shop and have a little book that customers are leaving messages in. She will definitely be missed.”

A celebration of Berkovich’s life was held Sunday at Temple Beth El in Portland. Anyone wishing to honor her memory is asked to make a donation to the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland in Westbrook, or HART of Maine Adoption Center and Shelter for Cats in Cumberland.

Lygo said Berkovich was such an integral part of the Book Review that keeping her on the payroll was “without question a must for me in the purchase of the business.” She said Berkovich was beloved by patrons because of her “warm personality, her optimistic attitude … and her knowledge of books.”

“There was never any ‘ask’ that was too much,” Lygo said. “We have a lot of older customers who don’t have the ability or know-how to research things, and often Letty would work with a customer for 20 minutes researching a title based off one word, that had been on NPR that morning or in the paper last week. Nine times out of 10 she’d meet with success and customers were always so appreciative of her time and effort.”

Berkovich spent most of her life on her family farm in Cumberland, where, even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she took care of all the animals, from goats to dogs, and tended the gardens.

Although she spent most of her career selling books, her obituary said Berkovich “would describe herself as an artist.” She attended the fine arts program at Boston University and then received a teaching degree from the University of Southern Maine. She taught art at North Yarmouth Academy for several years.

Her sister, Margie Berkovich, said Letty found her niche at the bookstore, and she hopes people remember how kind and generous she was.

“She never judged and did all she could to help people,” Margie Berkovich said. “She always gave everyone the benefit of the doubt and she was very intuitive. She was just a very good person.”

She said she thinks the message her sister would most like to pass on is to “never give up on life and be kind” to people, but especially to animals.

Donna Williams, the former owner of the Book Review, hired Berkovich in 1980 to work over the summer or during school vacations, but she soon became an invaluable full-time employee.

Williams said Berkovich was “an unbelievable resource” when it came to a knowledge of books and that she was “an important part of so many people’s lives growing up. She was truly a cultural icon” in Falmouth.

Longtime Book Review customer Pat Davidson Reef  this week said she would often stop by the store just to ask Berkovich what she should read next.

“Letty always knew a book I would love,” Reef said. “We talked about books and art. She always had a kind word about everyone (and) … her smile lit up a dark day. Her memory is indelible and associated with the little Falmouth Book Review store that she loved so much. She will be sadly missed, but I will always remember her smile and love of books.”

On the Book Review’s Facebook page, one customer wrote that Berkovich’s death is “truly a loss for all of us who loved books. We have lost a treasure.” Another customer wrote, “so sorry to hear about this great loss to the Book Review and Falmouth. It’s a special gift to get others excited about reading and it’s clear Letty had this gift in abundance.”


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